AUSTIN (Nexstar) — When Vice President Kamala Harris touches down in El Paso, Texas on Friday, she’ll have the attention of a nation grappling with ways to secure America’s border with Mexico.
Harris, who plans to bring along El Paso Congresswoman Veronica Escobar and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, both Democrats, was appointed by President Joe Biden to lead his administration’s border response nearly 100 days ago.
“What happens at the border matters, and is directly connected to what is happening in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, it is directly connected to the work of addressing the root causes of migration,” Harris’ Senior Advisor and Chief Spokesperson Symone Sanders said in a call with reporters Thursday evening. “There’s poverty, there’s corruption, violence, and a climate crisis.”
Immigration advocates are angling for an opportunity to talk with Harris about how they’re tackling the surge in migrants crossing into the United States.
“It’s about time,” Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, said ahead of her visit.
“We welcome this opportunity, because there are great expectations,” Garcia said. “I hope that she comes to listen to these issues experienced by border communities, by families, and I hope that she comes to talk and engage with members of our community.”
White House officials confirmed Harris will meet with advocates from faith-based non-governmental organizations as well as shelter and legal service providers. She will also tour a Customs and Border Protection facility called the El Paso Central Processing Center, where she’ll visit with migrants, receive a walkthrough and operational briefing.
The timing of her visit raised eyebrows, as it comes days before Gov. Greg Abbott and former President Donald Trump will travel to the Rio Grande Valley for a border tour of their own.
Abbott has gone on the offensive, claiming the Biden administration’s “open border” policies are encouraging immigrants to enter the United States illegally and allowing for cartels to easily flow people and drugs into the state.
After announcing a state-funded border wall project last week, the governor’s office revealed more than $459,000 in donations in addition to $250 million in seed money siphoned from the state prison system to hire project developers and begin construction.
U.S. Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the vice president’s visit misses the mark and misplaces priorities, citing greater challenges elsewhere along the border.
“By ignoring the Rio Grande Valley, the busiest Border Patrol sector along the U.S.-Texas-Mexico border, the vice president is shifting the focus away from the most serious problems of the crisis that she’s failed to solve or even contribute any constructive ideas to,” Cornyn said in a speech this week.
Sanders said the administration does not take its cues from conservative critics nor from the former President. The White House defended the timing of Harris’ visit. It was announced a week ahead of Trump and Abbott’s trip.
“We made an assessment within our government about when it was an appropriate time for her to go to the border,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said this week.
Sanders said El Paso, nicknamed “The Sun City,” is “really representative of what is happening at the border from California all the way through Texas and beyond.”
Garcia hopes the Biden administration’s approach to immigration will alter public perception and increase action before the situation worsens.
“I hope that they will, they will understand that we need to start changing the way that we’re treating people at the border and families coming across,”
Nexstar station KTSM 9 contributed to this report.